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The fairy gardener
Special to the online edition of Windy City Times

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It's a conspiracy: If I happen by a Target or a Kmart or anything vaguely resembling a plant emporium, they still have bulbs. And they're on sale. And they'll shrivel up and die if I don't buy 'em and plant 'em. So I do. 300 to plant in my yard so far (and I already put in 150 or so). I am, at least, trying to buy squirrel-proof ones, but are they rat-proof? (It's the rodent of choice in my neighborhood.) A new tenant has a charming white husky, Nova, who becomes Death the Destroyer at the scent of a ground critter. It's OK with me, dogger—go get them.

I'm thinking of ways to customize my new rock waterfall. It works fine and sounds fine but the very nice builders (straight, I presume) were not attuned to the Japanese (and/or gay) art of rock arrangement: the boulders are glued in place like, umm, dinosaur eggs. The spaces between the rocks need a mixture of dirt and mushroom compost packed in and then planted with moss and sedums and miniature ivies. Although the large bush-like mallows (dinner plate-sized flowers) were dug up and moved and a lot of bulbs were saved, some spring and shade plants may've been destroyed by the workmen. We'll see if the twinflower, the trilliums and the Dutchmen's breeches made it in the spring.

I think I have to bite the bullet about plume poppies. If you cut one down, four come up. They may all go to the big compost heap in the sky. I may also have to forgo the pleasure of feeding the birds on my patio this winter. I am not the only one to notice that the birds feed by day but the rats feed by night. I may be able to set up a small feeder on my third-floor deck—the rats seem not to have made it there yet.

I am bound and determined to try out some new perennials next spring for the yard but I will start them in large pots first. 1) They won't be overwhelmed by already established plants and 2) I can swap them around to different locations for suitability. Hollyhocks, several veronicas and tall bellflowers come to mind. (Note to self—put creeping jenny or pink nancy around the edges of these pots to hang over. Hmm, jenny might work on the waterfall too.)

Here are some new garden books the New York Times Book Review listed that might work as holiday gift items: The Man Who Planted Trees by Jim Robbins, which tells of David Milarch, who came up with the Champion Tree Project that intends to clone the largest specimen of every species of tree in the United States; Keshiki Bonsai by Kenji Kobayashi, which claims to be a new version of that ancient art of miniature landscapes; and Latin for Gardeners by Lorraine Harrison, for those of you dying to know what Phlox divaricata or Hydrangea quercifolia mean.

All you fervent recyclers—any natural Christmas trees or roping or wreaths can be recycled in your garden as mulch—clipped up or as is. Don't worry about changing your soil's pH unless you're chopping up a couple of 30-footers. By the way, if you tossed whole pumpkins or squashes (or gourds, cukes or tomatoes) into your compost heap you may find yourself the recipient of various vines next year. If they pop up in a convenient place, leave 'em—they often have glorious flowers and you might get a crop.

You don't have to be a Christian or even a deist to wish others the joy of the season and no ethical system, free-thinking or otherwise, says you can't spare a few shekels on the poor and homeless. Happy holidays to all of us!

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